The story of Alianna joining our family, A Home for Ali. is featured on Capture Hope, along with some beautiful photos from 535 Photo. I love Capture Hope and it’s mission “From Darkness into Light” … sharing stories of hope and testimonies of God’s goodness. We were honored to be interviewed and photographed by Rebekah several weeks ago. She took hours of Jason and me rambling on and on about foster care, adoption and the amazing kids we’ve had the privilege of parenting; and she turned it into a creative journal format. I love Ali’s testimony and I’m delighted to share it any time I have a chance.
At 2.75 years old, Ali had her first professional haircut. I’ve snipped at tangled and frayed ends a few times but this was the first real haircut at a salon. Our friend Sierra at Troubadour Salon cuts both Jason’s and my hair and she was glad to give our little girl her first trim. (Sierra is 7 months pregnant with her first little baby boy, by the way.) Ali did great!
Where is her real mommy?
I knew questions like this would come but it still caught me off guard. The three year old girl didn’t ask me directly; it was a question for her mom who was telling me later—and perhaps also asking. We’re loose acquaintances so she doesn’t know our story. That mom had suggested to her daughter that she ask Alianna. I told her Ali wouldn’t know how to answer that question. I left it at that. I could have said so much more and I’ve been mulling over what I should have or could have said for hours now.
The question bothers me partly because of the word real. Anyone who knows about adoption etiquette knows that’s a buzz word. I’m her real mom. Her biological mom is her real mom. Neither of us is fake or pretend. We’ve both very real and we’ve both very mom. Alianna is my real daughter and we’re a real family. It also bothers me a bit that this mother and daughter discussed the possible reasons for Ali’s adoption… “Maybe her real mom was sick.” The answer to this question is too complicated for a three year old and too personal for a loose acquaintance.
I’m pretty gracious with adoption questions and I don’t expect everyone to have the right words to use. However, the reason this poorly-worded, intrusive question made me sick to my stomach was the thought of a three year old peer asking it to my two year old daughter. Ali is confident and out-going but she would have no idea how to answer this question in 2.5 year old terms. I hate to think that it would give her a moment of panic… Is my mom not real? Is she not my real mom? Is she lost?
The three year old girl must be observing that often families match skin and hair colors. (Or has someone pointed it out to her?) We were in a fairly diverse setting but apparently transracial families and adoptive families are not common in her circles. I asked Ali later if she’s noticed that we don’t look alike—that she has brown skin and black curly hair and mommy has lighter skin—I stopped myself there because the look she was giving me said, No kidding. Why would or should we look alike? I might as well have been asking if she’s noticed the sky is blue and the grass is green. Then I realized that adoptive and transracial families are very common in our lives. It’s probably never crossed her might that we “should” look alike. There is nothing unusual about her family from her perspective at this point in her life.
Since I’ve been over-analyzing this conversation, I’ve come up with a response for this three year old girl in preschool terms. Here it goes:
I am Ali’s real mommy. She had a different mommy before me. She grew in her first mommy’s tummy. Her birth mommy loved Ali very much but she wasn’t able to take care of her so some helpers found Ali new parents—us. We adopted Ali into our family and we’ve been her parents ever since.
If she wants to know why her birth mom couldn’t take care of her: She was dealing with some really big grown-up problems and she needed to learn how to take better care of herself.
If she wants to know who the helpers were: They’re social workers who work for agencies—Child Protective Services and the Department of Childrens Services—that watch out for kids to make sure that they’re safe and their needs are met.
If she wants to know what adoption is: It’s when a judge decrees that we’re a real, official family—real parents and a real child—forever and ever.
If she wants to know where her birth mom is now: I don’t know for sure. She still lives in Nashville but we don’t see her very often.
(Picture at the top is Alianna with her birth mommy—her other real mommy. Blurred for her privacy.)
I’ve been trying to write this post for a month now. Alianna turned 2.5 on January 20. I was doing a photo shoot for Jason recently and using her to test my camera settings. I’m thankful for this impromptu session to capture some of her two-and-a-half-year-old wonderfulness. Here are some quick stats.
Ali is 34.5″ tall and 27 lbs. at 2.5 years old. (Between 10-25th percentile for height and 25-50th percentile for weight.)
She’s more passionate than ever. Everything she feels, she feels intensely—like most two year olds. Ali is sweet and sensitive to other’s feelings. She’s also let you know if she’s not happy. Every night she remembers to pray for Buzz and his mommy, for Great-Grandma (who Ali says is sad and sick and she needs a hug), for Nana and Papa, for Grandma and Grandma, for Mommy and Daddy and Bee and for biological baby sister. She’s got an amazing memory and often surprises us, especially when it comes to music. Ali is a gentle and loving big sister to Bee and considers everyone her friends.
Mommy…not Mommy…Daddy! (She gets our names mixed up a lot.)
I don’t know.
Esmooz me (excuse me…so cute!)
It’s hard to wait sometimes (said about 10x a day)
It’s hard to be patient.
(Ali, are you finished eating lunch?) No, I’m eating lunch all day.
Hmm, I don’t know what I want to choose.
Look at me.
Talk with me.
I need attention.
I need affection.
You sad? I know, you play puzzles with me. Then you be happy.
I go to bed happy and then I wake up happy!
Mommy! Mommy! My yight came on. And then I stayed in my room until my yight came on! (Every morning)
Bible Readeez, potato heads, play kitchen/food, being mama to her baby doll (feeding, burping, changing, putting to bed), Justin Time (show), Yo Gabba Gabba soundtrack, playing catch and soccer, dancing to music on her “stage” (footstool) with her frilly skirts, puzzles, learning letters and numbers, the book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See (she has it completely memorized and wants it read every night), FP Little People, playing catch or soccer with a bouncy ball
Mac & cheese, eggs, grapefruit, apple juice, fruit snacks, clementines, blueberries, rotisserie chicken, broccoli, sautéed mushrooms, chips & salsa (especially Chuy’s restaurant), cheese, yogurt, sweets/mints, pistachios
OK, actually she was driven North. I mentioned before Christmas that Bee was given an unexpected family pass to spend the holidays in Wisconsin with her grandparents and extended family. We met her grandma, great-aunt and great-grandma for dinner at Chilis the Friday before Christmas to get to know them a bit more before the send off. They’re very sweet people and I know Bee is in good hands. DCS extended their permission until January 13, her next hearing date because her grandma was planning on coming back down for the hearing anyway. It’s kind of weird…we technically still have a foster placement, Bee is officially still our foster daughter, but she’s not here. Although we do miss her, it’s been a nice break, too. After Buzz left I realized the unnatural circumstances that often come with foster care where the number of children in a household sometimes decreases. An additional child is a big adjustment and then reducing back down to one child from two feels like such an easy break. We’ve been enjoying soaking up lots of time with our amazing 2.5 year old Alianna. She is such a joy and a delight. Also, we got to see Buzz again. He and his mom came to the Christmas service at our church.
Bee all packed and ready to go. Have you ever seen a foster child come with such nice luggage?!
Two of her three Christmas presents from us. I opened them the night before she left.
We soothed ourselves with ice cream after the send-off dinner.
Ali showing off a gift from our neighbor, pocket babies.
Christmas church service:
I’m not a fan of snow and cold—I’m still bitter from all those years living in the snow belt in NW Pennsylvania—but who could resist the joy and wonder of a toddler exploring the freshly fallen snow? This stuff is pretty rare down in Nashville so I bundled her up and we headed out to play before breakfast.
Ali’s reaction to tasting an icicle: “Mmm…tastes like popsicles from the ‘frigerator!”
And then by the afternoon it was all melted. Thank God!
I’ll be away for the next week or so enjoying the holidays with my people. Merry Christmas to you and yours!
When we finalized Ali’s adoption we changed her name. It was a slight change to her first name because we really liked her name. Well before we had even considered foster care we planned on naming our first daughter Anna Mae. Jason and I both have/had grandmothers named Anna. Mine was Anna Maria. His is Anna Mae. We realized while debating about what/if to change her name that we could modify it just a tad and incorporate our planned name into her existing name. Alianna Mae Ahlbrandt.
Jason’s grandmother Anna Mae Ahlbrandt lives in Erie, Pennsylvania, where we’re from. We don’t get back up there often and it occurred to us that our opportunities to introduce Alianna to her great-grandma could be running out. Last Friday these two finally had a chance to meet. They probably won’t remember this meeting but it was important to me that we captured it in photographs so we can show Ali in the future. Great-Grandma has dementia and her short term memory lasts only about 5 minutes. She asked us over and over again who we were. She really seemed to enjoy Ali and Ali did very well braving this unfamiliar and awkward situation. When we talked about it afterward, Ali’s impression was that great-grandma was sick and she was crying. She was not crying—in fact, we was smiling, joking and singing most of the time we were there—but perhaps Ali was picking up on a deeper emotion. I’m thankful we could do this and capture the moment forever.
I’ll share about the rest of our trip—Ali’s first time to the place we grew up—in my next post.
For the first time in the past seven years, we sold a vintage furniture item and replaced it with an IKEA item. Maybe it’s the modern house we live in now rather than a 1955 ranch. Or maybe it’s the practicality of IKEA with families and small children. It’s probably both… The other part of our couch decision was based on the layout of our living room. This long Karlstad couch with chaise utilizes the space in our living room better. After Ali went to bed on Friday night, Jason and I started to assemble it. He had to leave in less than 2 hours for bus call. We scrambled and got the room put back together just in time! We haven’t had a couch in our living room for two weeks so it was so nice to sit here and relax a few times over the weekend. When Ali got up on Saturday morning I told her we got a new couch. When she saw it she said, “New couch! I want to sit here,” as she climbed up onto the chaise. “I want to watch shows.” I put a show on for her—a DVD that is—I didn’t perform.
I think she’s a fan!
The gray pillows aren’t a good fit for the beige couch but they’re functional for now. I think only one end table is going to work with this set up so we have to find another home for the other table and switch some lamps around. We’re also working on some art ideas for the big blank white wall.
Since Lucy keeps photobombing all my pictures, I figured I better just give her a proper portrait. Lucy the chocolate cocker spaniel at 8 years old: